Friday November 22, 2013 | 10:29 AM

                A book reading at the Lewiston Auburn College at the University of Southern Maine, created a dialogue about the Franco-Americans who expressed social and economic challenges while trying to achieve higher education. “Business Boy to Business Man: A Memoir” raised this discussion, because the author, the late Robert Verreault, writes how higher education wasn't included in his life’s ambitions.

Business Boy to Business Man a Memoir

Most who attended the November 21st discussion felt they were discouraged from achieving education beyond high school. Doris Bonneau, a Franco-American and teacher from Auburn, recalled how her father was surprised when she searched for colleges to attend. “College costs more money than I earn at my job,” her father said.

             Franco-Americans have lower rates of college education than others who graduate from Maine’s high schools. This data was assembled from the American Community Census conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau and reported to the Legislative Task Force on Franco-Americans, by James Myall, coordinator of the Franco-American Collection at USM LAC. 

A summary of Myall’s report is posted on line at http://usm.maine.edu/franco/state-maine-task-force-franco-americans.

A book discussion sponsored by LAC-USM Franco-American Collection, brought attention to the education issue through the events told by Robert Verreault, a Lewiston businessman, in his memoir “Business Boy to Business Man: A Memoir” written with author Denis Ledoux. 

Unfortunately, Verreault died on October 6, 2011, before his memoir was published. His wife Cecile Verreault, 86, attended the discussion.

Cecile Verreault with Denis Ledoux

Cecile Verreautl with Denis Ledoux at LAC USM on November 21st

Verreault was the owner of Lewiston’s Diamond Machine Shop. As a member of World War II’s “Greatest Generation”, he served with the US Navy Seabees in Iwo Jima. When he returned home from serving in the war in the Pacific, Verreault immediately went to work and began building his machine shop business.

In spite of a disastrous setback in 1972, when a destructive fire ruined his life’s work, he overcame this adversity with optimistic determination. As a matter of fact, in 1975, he received the “Small Business of the Year”, recognition from the Chamber of Commerce.

            Verreault’s life mirrors the vision of upward mobility dreamed about by thousands of American immigrants, including the Franco-Americans who grew up in Lewiston and Auburn, as the children of French Canadians.

Although Verreault achieved his vision of one day having enough money to own his own automobile and more, his path toward prosperity didn’t include the ambition to achieve educational goals beyond primary parochial schooling. He attended HolyFamilySchool in Lewiston.

            He recalls the day in 1937, when he knew he wouldn’t go back to school.

“The day I started work (as a dish washer), the graduating eighth graders from HolyFamilySchool were having a group photo taken. Well, I was working, so I didn’t go,” he recalls. His boss, at the time, insisted he join his classmates at the local studio for the group photo. Although Verreault says he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life, he knew it didn’t include going back to school.

            Nevertheless, Verreault’s life experiences were consistent with those shared by thousands of Franco-Americans of his generation. As a matter of fact, the Legislative Task Force Report recognized this generational lag in Franco-American educational goals.  It raises the rhetorical question about how much more influential Franco-Americans could be if they had been encouraged to achieve higher education.

Reading the wonderful memories in “Business Boy to Business Man” also leads to the assumption of how much more successful of a businessman Verreault might have been, if he had advanced his education.

            Included in Verreault’s memories are his recollections of historic events in Lewiston and New Auburn. Two chapters of the memoir are dedicated to his experiences in Iwo Jima, when he was a U.S. Navy Seabee during World War II.    

Verreault wrote his memoir with Denis Ledoux, a writer who lives in LisbonFalls. Ledoux is the owner of “The Memoir Network” and author of “Turning Memories into Memoirs”. 

Robert Verreault’s obituary is posted at http://www.obitsforlife.com/obituary/410275/Verreault-Robert.php

Contact Ledoux for information about Verreault’s memoir: phone:  207-353-5454.

About this Blog

Juliana L’Heureux is a freelance writer whose articles about Maine’s Franco-American history and culture have appeared in Portland newspapers for 25 years. She serves on the Maine Franco-American Leadership Council.

Juliana and her husband Richard live in Topsham ME. Feel free to contact her at Juliana@mainewriter.com.

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